11 Days. 16 hours and 14 minutes. 

It feels like a split second, and an eternity, simultaneously.

That’s how long it’s been since my last drink – and to be completely honest, I don’t miss it.

At all.

Words I didn’t think I’d ever type, much less this soon.

Don’t get me wrong, I crave it. And I will for months, and years – who knows how long. Maybe forever. But I am starting to feel like me again. Not even the old me (thankfully).

A new me, made up of pieces I’ve found meditating on the beach, pulled together through my newfound love of yoga, and capitalized with words plucked from books that I can’t get enough of. Everything is slowly starting to make sense and I can look myself in the mirror again. It really is faith – a faith I once had in the Universe, and in my insanity and belligerence, I spent years holding it hard under water and wine, until it drowned and stopped kicking.

Persistent and forgiving little thing, faith can be – because it climbed right back out from it’s watery grave the moment I asked to come home, took my hand, and said “Ah, that’s okay – I forgive you.” 

Thank you, again, Universe.

I don’t even look the same.

“Well, if you’d stop having so many damned epiphanies on the beach,” Jeff, my addiction counsellor said this evening after dinner, about how much I’ve changed in 11 days.

A tiny (huge) little moment of terror and pride overtook me, because it’s the first time I heard someone else say it, even though I’ve been thinking it. The hard part hasn’t even started yet (I am more than well aware of that, I’m not that naive, I promise) – but I feel like an almost dead houseplant that was ready to drop it’s final brittle leaf.

Abandoned on a dusty shelf, then rediscovered and given water for the first time in years, just moments before it was too late to ever grow again.

All that fluffiness above aside – yesterday totally sucked (See? It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and I’m not trying to blow either up your ass). So many awful and traumatic things are coming to the surface in my therapy sessions, I often leave them feeling and wanting to be physically ill.

Trauma is a patient, vicious, sneaky beast. So far dealing with these issues are proving the hardest for me – going without alcohol is easy in comparison to swallowing the truths that sobriety brings. Family secrets. Family traumas. Toxic communication. Misguided love. Abuse. The tragedies of broken hearts and broken families. The sick persistence of history repeating itself.

No wonder we all fucking drink.

(Side note: Please send tissues, I’ve gone through every box in the Dominican Republic).

It’s seems that with every step forward, there is a bargain and game of poker.

I’ll not only match your progress and tiny successes, but I’ll raise you 10 resentments and 20 regrets. 

Give and take. Light and dark. Birth and death. The two sides to a coin, to a soul, to a life.

Jeff mentioned that recovered alcoholics are among the luckiest people on earth, since they (We? Maybe one day, we?) get to live not just one life, but two. We get a second chance, a second life. A rebirth. An entirely new gift to not only recover, but to transform and manifest yourself and your life into something completely, entirely new.

A phoenix, if you will. Not unlike the neglected house plant, leafing out and coming back to life, stronger for it’s struggle to stay alive.


There’s something new about me (sobriety, perhaps?) – but it’s more than that. And I’m not just being romantic (I promise – that shit pisses me off, too). I’m reading literally everything that sits still long enough; assigned readings, but also meditations that I’m discovering, or that I believe are actually discovering me. Books are appearing in online searches that are completely unrelated to what I had searched for. So, I download them and they speak to me as though saying “I was actually what you were really looking for, but didn’t know how to ask.”

I’ve stopped fighting.

I’ve begun connecting all the dots between my (long buried and ignored) personal beliefs and faith, the 12 Steps & Traditions, The Big Book, daily meditations and therapy sessions – and it’s drawing a picture of my faith that is beginning to look very much like this photo I took this morning at the Yoga Temple we go to.

I would spend every waking minute there, if I could:

WhatsApp Image 2017-03-04 at 9.54.16 AM.jpeg

I’ve been reading Mindfulness and the 12 Steps, and it’s been helping me immensely. Not assigned reading as part of the program, but it speaks to me in a language that makes absolute, to the core, perfect sense to me. Yesterday morning I spent 40 minutes meditating on the beach at the edge of the ocean (following a meditation suggested in the very first chapter of the book). I imagined I was in an endless, golden field full of my mentors, visionaries and loved ones, some still here, some passed. Great buddhists, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King. You get the idea.

Someone was holding my hand and I couldn’t see who it was, but I wasn’t alone.

I kept repeating, I am not alone. I am not alone. I am not alone.

Now, there was no burning bush, nor did the ground rumble beneath my feet. I wasn’t enlightened or filled with any awe-inspiring wisdom, connecting with the pulse of the cosmos and every living thing (that would’ve been cool, though).

I can say I became – for the very first time – an inner witness – a neutral observer of the mind. Through my mindfulness practice I am learning to separate from my mind (and can I get a hallelujah, because I’ve been stuck in there far too long). Amazing what slowly returning to sobriety can do. My poor brain. So damaged for so long, with so much recovery ahead.

Plus, a burning bush would probably have freaked me right out.

Interestingly, my Grandmother was there in the field, and she took my face in her hands and called me her Boykin as she always did. And she laughed. I haven’t heard her laugh since before 2007 when Grandpa passed away, and especially since she passed away, as well. She never drank a drop of alcohol in her life. But she loved me like no other, and I am not surprised in the least she was there to greet me.

Of course, I was crying. It’s me after all. You’ll get used to it.

Fucking epiphanies.

She, and the millions of other people in that field on the beach passed something to me – a stillness and strength that I wasn’t alone in this. Tony, who just left the clinic a few days ago was there, in the field. I miss his calmness already, but I think I’ve learned it wasn’t just his calmness. It’s a calmness we can all discover, and a calmness he discovered while here. It is definitely contagious. Considering the condition I was in the day I walked in here, I was immediately drawn to his aura of calm – and I knew I wanted that for myself, too.

It’s amazing to watch people come and go here – everyone at different ends of an all-you-can-eat buffet, and it’s truly up to us what we put on our plate and into our souls. The food is there – but no one can make you eat it.

I’m happy to say that I’m totally pigging out – not on actual food – but I am gorging myself on this opportunity. I’ve actually lost over 4 lbs already (amazing what not consuming 3000 calories of a wine every day can do!)

“The one in whom no longer exist the craving and thirst that perpetuate becoming; how could you track that Awakened one, trackless, and of limitless range?”
– The Buddha

I’ve been writing like a madman – not here on the blog, but in my workbook(s). My hands are aching since I’m not used to actually handwriting anymore (how sad is that?). I get frustrated at the lack of space that’s allotted in the workbooks, because I have so much to say. Two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have given two shits and would’ve had a tough enough time forming a coherent reply to half the self-awareness questions I’m being asked. Today? I’m Mr. Can-I-Have-4-More-Pages-Because-I-Think-I’m-Just-Starting-To-Get-It-And-These-3-Blank-Lines-Aren’t-Going-To-Be-Enough.

I am feeling passion again for the first time in…well, I don’t know how long.

Let’s just say too long.

Now – to admit the terrible honesty that I’m very afraid of the coming steps, of carrying on when I go home – of the reality of discussions I’ve had with Jeff about the likelihood of relapse and the dangers of my job (as a wedding photographer, and being surrounded by the worst kind of drunks every Friday, Saturday & Sunday night, each weekend for the next 9 months). The “Avoid People, Places & Things” approach does not apply in my world when it comes to my career. It is a certainty, and an inevitability that I will need to plan for.

Don’t let me down now, Universe.

His forewarning that I will, because of the length and volume of my alcohol abuse, likely experience insane post acute withdrawal symptoms in several months, and they will likely last for months, as well, didn’t really make my day.

Jeff is either very much a realist, or a total asshole sadist. (In all honesty, I love him and he’s the best thing ever – this place would be nothing within him, Karina and Ivan, the therapists.) So I’m going to say he’s probably a bit of both. He’s been around the block so many times, the man has no time for bullshit.

He’s recommending Antabuse for me as a “level of insurance” because of the dangers of my job (which are unavoidable). Awesome. I’ll do and try anything to continue to recover and grow at this point. I was insane to have drank that first drink, every day – and I’d be beyond clinically fucking insane to risk doing it ever again.

Relapse is not an option. Drinking ever again is not an option.

It’s easy to write about the good things (for a change). It’s that scary “Oh shit, I have to go back to (a new) reality in 17 days” that scares me. It’s safe here. The “Oh….now I get to make a ‘searching and fearless moral inventory of myself’ next step that is making me snap the elastic on my wrist to keep me in the moment and force me to stay with the anxiety until it passes (a trick Ivan has taught me, to help me stop avoiding).

I’m actually looking forward to the AA Meetings – I’ve already compiled a massive list of every possible one in my home area, organized by day of the week, type of meeting, distance, and time of day. I’m guessing I’ll need to test the waters and find one that fits. Jeff’s been a wealth of information and advice on this – and how to find a good, established group. Fingers crossed.

These next parts are going to hurt, and I know that as well as I know with certainty that the ocean will still be on the beach when we arrive tomorrow morning. It’s going to hurt, not like peeling off just one layer of my skin, but every messy layer right down to the bones.

But if I’m doing it, I’m doing it ‘all-in’.  (Someone remind me of this over the next couple weeks, in case I try and dance around the dirty parts I don’t want to step in).

So there you go. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

And a little bit of Buddha, too.

I’m alive, and I’m slowly waking up.

*Big Stretch.

Written by SJ VanDee

Recovery Blogger. Sober AF. Photographer. Storyteller. Writer.


  1. I loved reading this. Other drinkers and especially at weddings can become your biggest motivating factor to stay sober. Hear me out…If you take time to really notice the drinkers, how they can’t wait to get the first drink in, how wasted everyone gets and what it all comes to in end. Really observe them like a scientist or like an alien that’s never seen this before.

    If you like a bit of Buddha☺ check out Pema Chodron – ‘the wisdom of no escape’ and also 8 step recovery – https://thebuddhistcentre.com/eightsteps


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m going to add you to the list of things I hate. I hate you for turning the corner; for seeing the light. I hate you for your passion and beliefs; I hate that you are discovering things well before Adam did. I hate that your liver hasn’t failed. I hate the fact that you could probably relapse and it wouldn’t kill you. I hate you for making me cry. I hate you for making me cheer you on. I hate that you are getting this chance.

    But mostly I love you. Mostly I don’t hate you at all. Holy crap, I just realized I pretty much wrote the sonnet from “10 Things I Hate About You.”

    You get the gist. If I have to hate you for the rest of your life because you made it, then I will be happy.

    I’m having a rough weekend. This post gave me some hope. Thank you.


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